Spirited Blog!

Cailleach Firewood Meditation

Happy Cailleach Day (Feb. 2nd)! Above is a drawing I did of Cailleach a couple years ago. Cailleach is the Irish and Scottish goddess of winter and weather who sometimes ventures out on Imbolc to gather wood. If the day is sunny and pleasant, Cailleach will collect firewood and extend winter in order to use it. But if the weather is bad, she will remain asleep through Imbolc and spring will soon arrive.

If this reminds you of Groundhog Day on February 2nd – you would be correct! They are similar traditions. Weather divination was common this time of year. The Christian name for Imbolc holiday is Candlemas. We get Groundhog Day from German immigrants who came to America and brought a similar idea as the Celtic story of Cailleach – that what happened on Candlemas would foretell whether spring was coming or whether winter would be longer. Those German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania and gave us Punxsutawney Phil!

I sometimes do a meditation this time of year to meet the goddess Cailleach. My intention is to see whether I am internally ready for springtime or wherher I still need the rest, reflection and slower pace of winter? Is my spirit ready to come alive with inspiration and activity, or am I still dreaming my next year into existence? Am I ready to emerge from hibernation or do I need a bit longer in the wintery dream world?


For this meditation, I simply envision that I am walking down a path through the woods. I pay attention to whether I am seeing signs of spring or winter. The signs reflect where I am at internally.

I come to a clearing, where Cailleach is standing. I pay attention to whether she has a bundle of firewood in her hands or not. This is another symbol of my internal space.

I then spend time communing with Cailleach. Sometimes we will take a walk and gather more firewood (reflecting that I need more time in winter energies). Other times, we will sit around a fire and chat (reflecting that is not the time to gather more wood but instead to use the last of it). I will do a bit of spirit divination work through asking Cailleach any burning questions I may have or advice on things I am facing. I always give an offering prior to calling upon a deity. During and at the close of my interaction, I thank the spirit for their presence and any information or healing they have provided.

This meditation is so simple but a great way to do an internal check in this time of year!

Creating a Magic Mirror for Imbolc House Clearing:

A long time ago when I was only 12, I had a beautiful dream of being in an ancient forest where there was a small cottage. I was invited inside and discovered that the cottage was connected to my ancestors. A female ancestor dressed in Victorian era clothes asked me to sit down. She opened an old photo album and began to show me various black and white pictures. She said “These are your ancestors and they love you more than you know.” That dream has always stayed with me.

After creating the mirror in the picture to this post, I journeyed – or hedge rode in witch lingo – to discover how I should use it. I was taken back to my ancestral cottage. My ancestors showed me that the mirror could be used as a portal, and could pull into it, any unsupportive energies or unquieted spirits in my home.

The energies and spirits would be drawn into a large cauldron in the kitchen of the ancestral cottage. Any unquieted spirits wishing to transition, would then travel up the steam from the cauldron into the Light. But if there were any truly harmful spirits, they would be placed in bottles (spirit traps) and put on shelves in the cottage’s kitchen.

Lately, I have been posting different clearing methods ahead of Imbolc (February 1st) – the next turning of the wheel. Imbolc is an auspicious time to do some “spring cleaning,” including energetic clearing and blessing your home.

For the ancient Celtic people, Imbolc was the start of spring. Creating a magic mirror portal is one way to clear your home after the long winter months when unsupportive energies can accumulate and become stagnant.

You will notice almost immediately how the energy of your home changes after doing a bit of clearing work! Using a mirror clearing portal is a very effective tool but does requires a bit of ground work. Below is a simple method that you can try!


  1. Choose a small mirror and energetically clear it using your chosen method (for me, that is an herbal smoke clearing).
  2. Set strong intentions that your spirit allies take you to a place in the spirit realms (through hedge riding) were you can send unsupportive energies and any harmful or unquieted spirits in your home.
  3. Perform a hedge ride (a journey into the spirit realms). Allow your intuition and spirits to guide you to a place where you can send unsupportive energies to be recycled and any unquieted spirits to be transitioned or banished. Once you have a clear idea of the place and any ally spirits who will help you with your clearing work, strongly intend that your mirror be connected to that place creating a portal.
  4. Be sure to set strong intentions that the mirror only goes one way – pulling unsupportive energies from your home into it but not allowing any back.
  5. Create or intuit a sigil that you can draw with your finger on your mirror to open the portal for use. I simply draw a spiral.
  6. Once you open your mirror portal, place it in a central location in your house and simply leave it there to clear the space. I leave the mirror in the living room or on the dining room table.
  7. When you feel your house is clear, close the mirror portal. I simply envision double doors closing and locking. Afterwards, be sure to thank the spirit of your mirror and the spirits of the place you have connected your mirror too.

I hope you will enjoy creating your own magic mirror for clearing work!


I have a positive view of snakes. Snake energy is often thought of as “life force” energy, and in certain cultures, the spirit of the land. Medusa, the snake haired Goddess, has been a long-time spirit ally of mine. Over the years, she has taught me how to incorporate “snake” energy into my clearing and protection practices. I often employ snake spirit wisdom during ritual clearing baths to empower and amplify my intentions.

Ahead of and on Imbolc, is the perfect time to do clearing work. “Imbolc” means “in the belly.” It is a time to prepare and blessing the land and soil for planting – and a time for existing seeds deep in the earth to germinate under the snowy ground (“the belly” of the earth). This is why clearing your spaces is so vital this time of year – because we all want the intentions (seeds) we plant to flourish. In yesterday’s post, I included my base ritual clearing bath (At least 2 cups of Epsom salt and as much Florida water as you feel called to add). Today, I want to share some tips for powering up your clearing bath using snake energy.

Channeling Snake Energy: Connecting to the spirit of Snake as snake itself, life force energy, or the Goddess Medusa, is a powerful way to increase the effectiveness of your ritual cleansing bath. Light a candle or leave an offering to the spirit of snake as a thank you.

Snaking Movement: When you do a clearing bath, dunk every part of your body under the water. Be sure to dunk your head at least 3 times. As you do so, make a snaking movement to shake off unwanted, unhealthy and unsupportive energies, and clingy disincarnate spirits.

Hissing: Making a hissing sound is very powerful for clearing and banishing unwanted energies and spirits. I use this after each dunking of my head. I close my eyes and hiss as I intend all unsupportive, unwell and unwanted energies and disincarnate spirits be banished. I watch as the hissing pushes these energies away and then envision a double door closing. As the door closes, it snaps the cords between myself and unsupportive energies.

Shedding Old Skin: Lastly, starting at your head, take your hands and push down and away, any remnant, unsupportive energies that are stubbornly clinging to your aura. Envision like a snake, you are shedding old skin that no longer serves you.

A Ghost Rescue on Hecate’s Night

November 16th was Hecate’s Night. This eve honors the goddess of magic, the crossroads and mist. Among her goddess aspects are guiding souls to the Underworld – think of Persephone – and protection against harmful spirits. 

On Hecate’s Night, I was unable to take time to honor Hecate in the way that I had planned due to a family matter. Instead, I shifted gears and thought, “my spirit allies want my time, gratitude and service” more than a ritual. They want a relationship based on mutual respect and reciprocity. This idea has always been the backbone of my personal spiritual and intuitive practice. 

I took a few minutes to quietly thank Hecate for appearing in my dreams in early summer, for working with me through summer and fall, and for her presence as an ally. I expressed that our relationship is important to me.

Later that night, my older son came into my room. He said “Mom, I just had sleep paralysis. I think there is a spirit in my room. I was getting goosebumps on my leg”  I went into his room, and sure enough there was the spirit of a teenage girl. Half asleep, I mentally told the spirit to leave my son alone. I had a feeling that the girl was still present but hoped that we could get to the morning, when I would attempt to transition her spirit.

My son is aware that I am a psychopomp – also called a rescue medium, soul or spirit rescuer, or deathwalker.  A psychopomp is a healer of the restless dead. Soul rescuers guide earthbound spirits into the Light – the portal that takes them to the Heavens, Land of the Ancestors, Summerlands or higher spiritual plane. 

So how did my son know that there was possibly a restless spirit present? Because my son has been inadvertently learning about spirits through our conversations over the years. He knows that there are certain signs when a restless spirit is present but also that there is nothing to fear.

After all, earthbound spirits are simply human souls that were captured by their intense unresolved emotions, attachments or confusion at death, causing them not take the Light. They are not evil or bad – they are only human.

The symptoms of an earthbound spirit that my son experienced were:

  • Sleep paralysis 
  • Waves of goosebumps on his legs
  • Uncomfortable feelings and imagery

Now just to be clear, earthbound spirits do not cause sleep paralysis itself. It is a biological function that prevents us from sleep walking when we are dreaming. But the dream world is part of the astral planes where earthbound spirits reside and sometimes restless spirits interact with the living during dreaming. They create frightful or uncomfortable images, sounds and feelings to feed off the emotional energy of fear produced by the living person. When this happens, it can cause a person to become conscious, (but still immobile) in their dream state, as the amygdala (the part of the brain that registers danger) recognizes the presence of another as an intruder.

Waves of goosebumps are also not always earthbound spirits – but they are spirits. Sometimes goosebumps are guides or ancestors – but sometimes they are restless souls. You will notice that I say “waves of goosebumps” which is different from regular goosebumps produced by the cold. My son experienced them on his legs, a common place to have these waves when it is a minor or earthbound spirit. In this case, it was both. 

Later that night, my son came in again and said that he felt the spirit pull his hair and he could sense the spirit at the head of his bed. I was awake at this point and went about trying to help the spirit.  

I closed my eyes and immediately saw a majestic stag with fire lit on each point of his antlers, like candle flames. Then three women in headdresses appeared holding lights, followed by many young women holding similar lights. I immediately thought of Hecate, a triple goddess. I felt she had appeared in her triple form to help the young teenage girl to transition.

I was curious whether Hecate was associated with stags and found that in certain mythologies – she is a triple goddess with Selene and Artemis (also known in her Roman form as “Diana”).  Artemis is the goddess of the Hunt and one of her symbols is the stag.  

It was not lost on me that I had been working with the “Wild Hunt” (a Samhain to Yule supernatural event) since before Samhain for the mass transition of earthbound souls. Artemis-Diana appearing seemed both connected to Hecate’s Night and to my work with “the Hunt.” 

Artemis is known as the protector of maidens and is described as being accompanied by a band of maidens nymphs. In my vision, the three goddess-like women were followed by a group of young women holding lights.

I then connected to the young teen girl’s spirit to see why she was earthbound. I instantly felt that she did not trust men. She showed that she had gotten a tattoo on her arm without her father’s permission. When he found out, he broke her arm. She continued to tell me more about her abuse. My heart went out to this beautiful young girl and I knew that Hecate/Artemis had appeared to help this young maiden finally find peace. 

Artemis is the maiden form of the Hecate triple goddess of Artemis-Selene-Hecate (maiden, mother and crone) and was present to bring an energy and spirit of protection of maidens – I believe to make the teenage girl feel safe. All the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

I offered the young woman healing and opened the Light. I watched Artemis help her onto a stag. The band of spirits rode off into the Light. 

I may not have had time for the ritual I had planned to Hecate, but by offering my gratitude and my service, I was able to be a part of helping a beautiful young woman find the peace that she deserved after a traumatic life. I wanted to share this experience to honor my relationship with Hecate and Artemis, and hopefully to impart the message that it’s ok if life intervenes in our plans.  Our spirit allies understand life is busy, sometimes hectic and chaotic, and what is in our heart is more important than a perfectly planned ritual or remembering an offering. Relationship is what our spirit allies desire – our companionship, reciprocity and gratitude for their presence in our lives. 

Journey to the Norse Land of the Dead (Helheim) For Ancestral Healing

Helheim is the land of the dead in Norse mythology.  It is where the ancestors who did not die in battle reside (i.e., those who passed due to old age, illness, etc.).  Helheim is overseen by the goddess Hel or Hela, whose face has one side that is beautiful and the other skeletal or ghostly. This image represents that life and death are two sides of the same coin – always connected. 

During the journey below, you will meet your ancestral guardian mother (“Dis”) or mothers (“Disir” or “nornir”) and journey to Helheim to commune with your ancestors.  The Disir are your “fate mothers,”or “fairy godmothers,” to use a familiar term from folklore. Your Dis/Disir, if approached with respect and honor, will become great allies in your life.  They oversee the luck, abundance and fates of those in your family line.  Entering into a strong reciprocal relationship with the Dis/Disir, will positively affect all within your family, including yourself, your children and your children’s children.

Meeting your “fate mothers” helps to bring you closer to your ancestors and family wisdom. Your fate mothers often appear as one “Dis” or three “Disir” – like the three fates.  During my apprenticeship in Northern European magical practice, my Dis appeared as a giant cloaked woman.  She opened one side of her cloak and showed me that it held the memories of all my ancestors and their lives.  She was the keeper of my lineage – and its lessons and wisdom.  She showed me a vision of my ancestors leaving a beautiful wild coastline of rocky cliffs and evergreen trees. I could feel the intense sadness they felt at leaving their ancestral lands. Connecting with this past helped me to weave these family members more deeply into my ancestral practice and heal a longing that follows many in my family – a search for something that we can’t quite define. 

Your Disir are among your greatest allies in working through lineage issues and healing your ancestral lines.  Your Disir can guide you, or lead you to ancestors who can guide you, on what can be done to shift or heal your family line of unsupportive patterns or heal from ancestral traumas that may be affecting your family tree.  Connecting with your Disir will also bring you closer to your ancestors who individually and collectively are powerful spirit allies.  Your Disir can be called on for protection and guidance related to your fate and life, or that of other family members.

My efforts to connect with my Dis and my ancestors helped to heal the lingering ancestral sadness as I became a living keeper of the memory of my ancestors and their cultural heritage.  I wove elements of that heritage back into my family and life, and was guided to do ancestral healing work on my paternal side after journeying to Helheim.

The ancient Norse peoples believed in a malleable fate called “wyrd.” The wyrd was the web of fate that was woven for each person but could be unwoven and rewoven in a new form, thereby changing one’s fate and luck. Part of an individual’s “luck” (and therefore fate) was determined by the actions and lives of ancestors. This was called “orlog.” A person could have a beneficial orlog or one in need of correction.  One’s orlog can lead to positive or negative ancestral patterns being passed down over many generations. A journey to the Land of the Ancestors is an opportunity to explore your orlog and ask the advice of ancestors on how to maintain a positive orlog or right the ship for an unsupportive orlog.  The thin fall veil presents the perfect opportunity to take a journey to Helheim and commune with the ancestors for healing, guidance, or to explore your fate and luck!

The Journey to Helheim: 

  1. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply and rhythmically. Spend a few minutes setting strong intentions that you will meet your Dis/Disir at the World Tree and journey to the land of the ancestors.
  2. Envision a mist rolling in and encompassing your entire vision. In your mind or out loud, chant the runes Raidho (journey rune) and Othala (ancestral inheritance rune) or any other runes that you feel called to use.
  3. When the mist clears, you will see a large ancient tree. This tree is Yggdrasil, the World Tree. But this tree is also you and your family line. After all, each of us is the World Tree at our core.
  4. Circle Yggdrasil three times counter-clockwise while strongly focusing on your intentions that when you are done circling, your Dis/Disir will be there to greet you.
  5. Take a moment and say “hello.” Thank her for her service to your family line and offer her something in exchange for taking you to the land of the dead to meet your ancestors. Tell her the purpose of your journey and ask her to guide you to the ancestors who can help answer your questions.   
  6. Let your Dis/Disir guide you to the land of the ancestors.  You may travel through a door in the tree or down its roots to the underworld, Helheim.
  7. You will eventually reach the river Gjoll and cross a crystal bridge to the gates of Helheim.  If any beings appear on the bridge or at the gates, greet them kindly and pay any toll. Do not over-offer or over-promise, as any offerings or tolls should be fulfilled by you after your journey to maintain positive relationships with the beings who you encountered. Lighting a candle or leaving an offering is often enough. 
  8. Once through the gates, ask your Disir to take you to the ancestors who you need to see and hear from most to answer your questions. Use your intuitive senses to obtain information, wisdom, healing or guidance from your ancestors. 
  9. You may be greeted by the Norse/Germanic Goddess of Death, Hel during your journey.  If she appears and extends her bone hand, shake it.  Thank her for allowing you into the realm of the ancestors and tell her that you will leave an offering or light a candle in her honor.
  10. After spending time with your ancestors, thank them for their guidance and their lives that helped make yours possible. 
  11. Travel back up or through the World Tree. Thank your Dis/Disir for giving you passage to the land of the ancestors and say goodbye.
  12. Circle the World Tree three times clockwise.  Watch as the mist rolls in again and when it clears, you are fully back in your body and the physical world. 
  13. Fulfill any promises made to any spirit beings during your journey.


“Psychopompery” (rescue mediumship) helps to heal earthbound spirits by guiding them into the Light that leads to a beautiful afterlife in the Land of the Ancestors, Summerlands or the Heavens. Through this healing practice, restless spirits – also called ghosts – can finally find peace. I wanted to share a few psychopomp practices you can do during the Samhain season (Halloween) when the veil is particularly thin.

Samhain is Gaelic and means “seed fall” or “summer’s end.” It marks the start of winter. This time of year is associated with the ancestors and also with the restless dead. A few beautiful psychopomp practices you can do this time of year (among many) are:

  1. Create an altar to the lost and forgotten dead (light candles for restless spirits, open the Light over it and invite earthbound spirits in your area to cross over throughout the season. Be sure to ward your space well if in your home.)
  2. Do a journey into your ancestral lines to help any ancestors who did not cross over. (Sometimes such ancestors become entrenched in the energy of the family line leading to lineage issues mirroring the struggles or perseverations of the earthbound ancestor.) If you are interested in one way of doing this work, please check out this prior blog post with a Samhain oak tree meditation for ancestral healing: https://vanessahanks.com/2020/10/31/healing-ancestral-karma-a-simple-powerful-oak-tree-meditation/
  3. Join the Wild Hunt – a boisterous band of spirits often led by a God or Goddess associated with the dead or the season. These spirits ride on horses and often have hounds with them. They travel over the countryside and gather the dead and sometimes those close to death. In my practice, this is a mass clearing event ahead of the new year where earthbound souls are transitioned in large numbers in preparation of new energies and spirits coming in during spring. (in Celtic Countries the Wild Hunt occurred at Samhain, while in Norse and Germanic tradition, it occurs during Yule time – I usually join the hunt at Yule with Odin but plan to join it through the time from Samhain to Yule with various deities if welcomed by them.)

I grew up sensing and experiencing the unquieted dead. I have been a practicing psychopomp for 10 years. Psychopompery it’s a beautiful, needed healing practice that has been mostly forgotten in the Modern age. I offer classes and mentorships in this soulful healing art.

I recently was interviewed by Amy Major, a world-renowned rescue medium who wrote the book “Towards the Light” and has a podcast on rescue mediumship called “Spirit Rescue Talk.”

The interview can be found at:


Casting the Clew – Imbolc Nicneven Divination

I have always loved the idea of “casting the clew” (a ball of yarn) for divination. This practice is associated with the Goddess Nicneven, the Queen of the Witches and Faeries in Scottish lore. In “The Flytting Betwixt Montgomerie and Polwart,” written in 1621, it states:

“Then a clear Companie came soon after closs,

Nicneven with her Nymphs, in number anew,

With Charms from Caitness and Chanrie in Ross,

Whose Cunning consists in casting a Clew…”

While there is very little known about Nicneven and the practice of casting the clew, it is believed to be a divinatory practice involving throwing a ball of yarn into a dark room or corner. As you pull the yarn back towards you, the future is gleaned. It is thought that the future would be drawn out of the darkness and revealed.

Working with the fates has always been associated with threads, string, spinning and weaving. Casting the clew may stem from such ancient associations.

But what does any of this have to do with Imbolc (Feb. 1st – the halfway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox)? Nicneven is believed to ride like a storm with her band of witches, nymphs and faeries, not just around Samhain and Nicneven’s Night, but also between Imbolc and Lent.

This makes sense as some consider her to be the same as Cailleach – the Irish and Scottish goddess of winter and weather who sometimes ventures out on Imbolc to gather wood. If the day is sunny and pleasant, Cailleach will collect firewood and extend winter in order to use it. But if the weather is bad, she will remain asleep through Imbolc and spring will soon arrive. If this reminds you of Groundhog Day on February 2nd – you would be correct!

Imbolc is the perfect time to try “casting the clew.” This practice can be done in your mind’s eye or literally by sitting in a dark room or facing a dark hallway and throwing the clew (a ball of yarn) into the darkness. As you slowly pull back the string with your hands or in your imaginings – see what appears out of the darkness. Before casting, light a candle for Nicneven and set strong intentions for what you are trying to glean. Ask a specific question or set intentions that the images drawn out of darkness reveal what is coming from Imbolc through the spring equinox. Give this simple divination a try!

The Spirit, Spindle & Root

I can’t believe we (hubby and I) have finally found a home for my intuitive practice! It will be called the Spirit, Spindle and Root. Below is a pic of the beautiful 1800s cobblestone building on Spirit Hwy (Route 5 & 20) in West Bloomfield, NY. We are hoping to open in October 2021 with a magical and intuitive shop that offers readings, healings, classes, gifts, antiques and more. I will be posting our journey as we decorate and fill the space to make it our own! Visit my website at vanessahanks.com – its in flux but come visit anyway! It’s a work in progress!

Beltane’s Thin Veil – Understanding the Spirit Year

As we approach the next turning of the wheel on May 1st, I wanted to write an article about Beltane’s thin veil.  When spring arrived, I had a conversation with a few magical practitioners who told me that they could already feel the veil getting thinner.  I was surprised because for me it was growing thicker now that the dark half of the year was in the rear view mirror.  (Note: A “thin veil” is a time when the boundary between the physical world and spirit world is thinner allowing more connection and communication with spirit beings.)

As a psychopomp who heals the dead, the veil is thinnest for me from mid-fall through the darkest night of the year. Samhain (Halloween) and Winter Solstice are known to be two of the thinnest veils, but Beltane is another. 

I was perplexed that I could feel the thinning so intensely during the fall and the start of winter, but not as much during the spring. I knew this was a topic that I needed to explore to deepen my understanding of the spirit year and the difference in the seasonal veils.  I decided to communicate with my guides on this question and the answer they gave me was beautiful and simple.  

But before we get there, let’s first discuss spirits and darkness.  Spirit mediums have long known that the spirits of the dead manifest best in dark conditions.  This is why seance rooms are blacked out with windows and doors often duct taped so that thin slices of light can’t creep in from under a door or from behind a curtain.

Darkness leads to greater spirit activity, and for me as a psychopomp, to more earthbound spirits connecting with me. Therefore, during fall until the Dark Night of the Soul, as nights growing longer and the veil thin for me, I perceive more spirits and have a greater number of spirits connect with me in stronger ways than during the light half of the year.

This is not only true of the spirit year but also the lunar month.  During the dark moon, earthbound spirits are at their strongest and more able to interact with me.  But during spring and summer, as daylight grows, the veil between our world and the dead becomes thicker and I personally become more grounded.  

So why then is Beltane considered one of thinnest veils and how does it differ from the thin veils at Samhain and Yule? Well to start, Beltane is a spring holiday and spring is the time of year when a mass amount of new spirit energy enters our planet. Seedlings are sprouting, flowers are blooming, and birds and animals are bringing new life to Earth.  The world comes alive, and so do we.

For so many spirits to be entering our planet, it requires just as thin of a veil as during the fall – but for a different purpose. The spring spirit energy has a downward and outward motion.  It is powerful for invoking and birthing our intentions from the mental and spiritual realms into the physical world.  It is also an auspicious time for gathering creation/life force energy for the rest of the year.

For this reason, I plan to take time on Beltane to invoke and bring into this world the things that I have been seeking and are most in alignment with my soul. I also plan to harness the energy of this holiday for the dark half of the year to restock my power for manifesting, creating and growing when these energies are less available on our planet. Placing such energies into a ritual item, a corresponding crystal, a poppet, or even a bottle will do.

Beltane is also an auspicious time to connect with the Fae as opposed to the spirits of the dead.  The new life energies at Beltane are very attractive to the faeries.  After all, Beltane is a fire holiday representing the fires of passion that lead to new life and life force itself – both delicious energies for the Fae. 

The Fae are often viewed as guardians of nature. They tend to nature’s balance by helping it grow and thrive.  Therefore, the Fae love a bit of merry making during Beltane that leads to new life on Earth! Sexual energy is powerful and charged with life force.

Conversely, fall and winter are associated with the doorway to the afterlife.  It is no mistake that throughout history, humans connect to their ancestors during the fall and Yule seasons as the dark nights grow. The energy during fall and winter is inward and upward – of internal introspection and then release.  The veil between our world and the dead is thin during this time of year for the purpose of releasing the energy and spirits of the dead in preparation for new growth in spring.  

Life and death, light and dark, are two sides of one circular spinning coin. If we do not allow unsupportive energies and any lingering spirits of the dead to be released then nature cannot as strongly bring new life to Earth during springtime.  There is simply not enough room for new spirits to arrive if nature does not undergo its annual death and release during the dark half of the year. 

Likewise, if we do not clear out our own internal spaces when the time is auspicious, then there might not be enough room for energies of new life, inspiration and fresh spirit to be planted and take root within us during the light half of the year. That being said, if you did not take the time to release in autumn, you can similarly harness the energies of the waning parts of the lunar cycle for the same purpose. Nature always provides us with the opportunities to release what is not serving us!    

The Wild Hunt during Samhain and Yule is another example of nature’s attempt to release spirits and heavy energy from the Earth in preparation for the birth of a New Year. The Wind Hunt is most often lead by psychopomp beings such as Odin, Herne, Freya, Holda, Perchta, Berchta, Gwyn ap Nudd, the Huntsman, and more, for the purpose of clearing the Earth of the unquieted dead and “dead energies” so that new spirits can be born in spring.

The wonderful magical practitioners I mentioned earlier, possibly felt the thin veil stronger in the spring because each of them was either connected to plant and herb magic or Fae energies. But I communicate most regularly with the dead and am less attuned to the energies and spirits of gardening, plant magic and the nature side of the Fae. (I am however, very connected to the Fae in their role as psychopomps and takers of earthbound dead.) I believe in the end it is best to be a balance of both and this year I will deepen my relationship with the spirits of the spring.

I hope this article has helped to illuminate the beautiful cycle of incoming and exiting spirits and life and death energies on our planet over the Wheel of the Year. I hope that you have a beautiful and lively Beltane. Enjoy the revelry and company of those you love. And if called, invoke your intentions and envision them being birthed into our world in beautiful ways. Blessed be!

Copyright 2021 Vanessa Hanks, All Rights Reserved.

Becoming Familiar with Spirit Familiars

The witch and her familiar are iconic.  Just think of the witch’s black cat or a raven on a witch’s shoulder that is so ingrained in our popular image of the witch.  This image is so deeply instilled in our collective understanding of witches because it goes straight to the heart of what makes a witch – well, a witch – namely, a connection to the unseen worlds of spirit and magic.  In my own journey as a folk witch, my relationship with my spirit familiars has been the cornerstone of my personal practice.  

But what is a “spirit familiar?”  

 This is not a simple question to answer because there are very different ideas about who and what a witch’s familiar is.  Some consider their beloved pet to be their familiar, others only spirits, and yet others a thought form of the witch.  In this article, I will present my own understanding of spirit familiars based historical accounts, lore, and my own direct experience with familiars.  That being said, if your understanding is different than mine, be guided by your own truth. 

Historically, the term “familiar” is most often associated with the spirit allies of British and Scottish witches and cunning folk.  This does not mean that these important spirit relationships are reserved for those whose ancestry or practice stems from this part of the world.  Spirit allies are universal to those who connect with the Otherworld and engage in magical practices.  For this reason, the witch’s familiar shares common traits with spirit allies from other cultures, including, the shaman’s power animal, the Norse and Germanic ‘fylgia,” and the Irish “fetch.”  

My own definition of a “spirit familiar” is a powerful, shape-shifting astral spirit who a witch fosters a strong, reciprocal relationship with, and who over time, becomes a guide, craft teacher, protector, and lender of power to the witch.  Wow, that is a mouthful!  But to define familiars in this way clearly delineates what a spirit familiar is and why these relationships are so important to magical practitioners.

For the remainder of this article, we will explore my definition of a “spirit familiar.”  We will begin with unraveling the first part of the definition that “spirit familiars are powerful, shape-shifting astral spirits.”  

Familiars are Powerful, Shape-Shifting Astral Spirits:

Emma Wilby, author of “Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits,” closely connects familiars with a very specific type of astral being – faeries.  She draws this conclusion from historical accounts of familiars found in the confessions of accused British and Scottish witches during the 16th and 17th centuries.  

The fae, like all astral beings, are spirits between this world and the next, but closer to our physical realm than to higher spiritual planes.  In fact, the lower astral realms overlap our world and if we could pierce the veil right where we stand, we would touch the astral planes.  

Astral spirits are a mix of spirit and material substance.  As Wilby puts it, “…the fairy possessed some kind of semi-material or ‘astral’ form putting them somewhere on the spectrum between human flesh and bones and spirit.”  The semi-substance of astral spirits compared to more ethereal beings, gives astral spirits the ability to strongly appear, manifest and shift things in the physical world. They are masters at harnessing and bringing astral energies into the material plane to weave fate, heal, divine the future, create, and more. Through relationships with astral spirits, we too can learn these skills, as well as form strong alliances with beings who can lend their unique power, energy and knowledge to magical workings and spiritual endeavors. 

Because astral bodies are malleable and can change form, spirit familiars have long appeared in history as both animals and humanoids. They are adept shapeshifters who can teach us how to skinwalk in our astral form.   

As stated before, the British/Scottish spirit familiar shares common characteristics with the Norse and Germanic “fylgia.” The fylgia, like the familiar, is an astral being and spirit helper who appears in lore sometimes as a human and other times as an animal.  The fylgia overlaps with another Germanic spirit called the “disir,” or ancestral fate mothers.  The word “fairy” stems from the French word for “fate,” and “fate mothers” – another term for the well-known “fairy godmothers” of European fairy tales.  Familiars and fylgia therefore have in common that they are connected to and may in fact be faeries, along with sharing the traits of being astral beings, shapeshifters and spirit allies to the living.

The fylgia is often referred to as the “one who goes forward.” These spirits can be powerful protectors who travel to the places we will visit and can warn of any dangers ahead

I have personally experienced this type of warning from a spirit familiar when my husband and I went to visit a commercial building that we were considering buying.  I suddenly became very sick as we drove towards the property.  As we got closer, I became sicker and sicker until we decided to cancel our viewing.  As soon as we canceled, the intense sickness in my stomach instantly disappeared.  This was my familiar/fylgia warning me that we were in potential danger or that we would seriously regret buying the property.  My husband and I have never looked back and wondered what if we bought that old 1800s building!  We were grateful for the clear warning to go no further. 

The Irish “fetch,” is another spirit being who shares common traits with the spirit familiar and fylgia. It is thought by some to be the Celtic counterpart to the Norse fylgia.  It is described as appearing to a person soon before their death.  The fetch is “the follower,” because it is with us from birth until we pass; but like the fylgia, the fetch “goes forward” to where the person will ultimately go and guides the soul to the afterlife.  Both the fetch and fylgia are sometimes described as being the astral body of a person, but this confusion speaks to the malleable nature of astral spirits who can appear in one breath as a doppelganger of us, and in another, as a raven or wolf. 

The fetch as a death harbinger might seem counter to the concept of a spirit ally during a witch’s life, but Robin Artisson, author of “An Carrow Gwyn: Sorcery and the Ancient Fayerie Faith,” helps to resolve this contradiction.  Artisson directly claims the fetch as another word for the witch’s familiar and explains that “witches and sorcerers often gain their chief power from identifying with the fetch-follower long before death.”  Artisson views this as a “reversal of the natural flow of the relationship between human and follower.”  After all, the witch has chosen a path very different or “reverse” from most, seeking in life what is beyond death by tapping into the unseen world of energy and spirits.  Artisson believes that the witch-familiar relationship leads to great spiritual transformation for the witch.     

The witch fosters a strong, reciprocal relationship with familiar spirits:

The benefits of being in a strong relationship with powerful and knowledgeable astral spirits are many.  But first and foremost, spirit familiars are teachers to the witch and guides into the Otherworld.  It is in (or from) the Otherworld that the witch can deepen their esoteric, spiritual, occult, intuitive and magical knowledge and abilities. 

Having a close relationship with familiars opens the doorway to the spirit worlds.  Once this door is open, your spirits can teach you the valuable skill of hedge riding.  To ride the hedge, is to travel in astral form into the spirit realms where you can gain valuable insights, guidance, or healing. You can also learn to manifest your will through learning to weave and bring astral energies back to our world.  Our spirit familiars join us in on these journeys (whether seen or unseen) and help lead us to the knowledge we seek.  

It is important to understand that familiars do not do “the bidding” of a witch.  They are not bound in servitude, but are instead close friends and allies.  In fact, you may find that spirit familiars become as dear to you as family.  

Should you seek to enter into a relationship with a familiar, then you must be ready to take on the responsibility of tending to that relationship just as you would any important relationship in your life.  Sacred reciprocity is at the heart of any witch-familiar relationship.  

This means you must be willing to take the time to connect and communicate with your spirit familiars.  Leaving out food or drink offerings, buying a small statue or piece of jewelry to honor a familiar, expressing gratitude, and merging with your familiar for an energy exchange, are also great ways to strengthen your spirit relationships.  These are only a few of many ways to tend to your familiars.  

Roger Horne, in his book “Folk Witchcraft: A Guide to Lore, Land and the Familiar Spirit for the Solitary Practitioner” provides practical and helpful advice for approaching a potential familiar.  He stresses to:

  • Be polite
  • Be Kind
  • Introduce yourself
  • Ask for a name
  • Don’t judge a spirit’s appearance (but do judge their actions)
  • Give an offering
  • Foster a friendship

This sounds like good advice for building a strong foundation for any lasting relationship.  

The witch-familiar relationship is often sealed by a pact or agreement between the witch and her familiar.  The pact sets the intention for a lasting bond – one sealed in trust, dedication, and reciprocity.  For this reason, familiars are connected to the Faerie Bride or Husband of lore, as marriage is a symbol of a long commitment.  Signing one’s name in the “black book” is another example of the pact between witch and familiar.  A witch’s relationship with her familiar is close and intimate – where secrets are told and secrets are kept.  This includes learning the secret magical knowledge of your familiars.  

But a trusting bond must first be fostered, then developed and maintained.  One in which both the witch and the familiar are honored as equals.  Not all magical practitioners may view spirit relationships in this way, but I do and have greatly benefited from taking the time to develop strong, reciprocal relationships with my spirit familiars.  

Spirit familiars are guides, craft teachers, protectors, and lenders of power to the witch:

Spirit familiars are teachers to the magical practitioner.  It is a common theme in Celtic lore for cunning folk to be taken by the faeries for a time and taught their craft. Examples of this are found in Thomas Cowan’s book “Fire in the Head,” on Celtic Shamanism.  He explains that in Celtic lore there are many accounts of cunning folk being taken to the faerie realms for often seven years, after which they are granted certain powers, talents, or healing abilities.  In my opinion, being “taken,” is a way of expressing being initiated by astral spirits into the mysteries of magic, spirits, and the Otherworld.  The path of the witch and shaman has always been one of initiation by spirits.  Many groups replicate the initiatory path of the witch through rites and rituals, but the most important initiations are those that the witch goes on by herself – guided by her spirit familiar(s).  

A well known example of “being taken” in Scottish lore is the story of “Thomas the Rhymer,” based on the historical figure of Thomas Learmont, the Laird of Ercildoune.  Thomas was taken by the Queen of Elphame to the faerie realm for seven years and in return was gifted with true speech (he could not lie), prophecy, and a faerie harp.  

Having apprenticed in Northern European Shamanism, it seems no mistake to me that the Queen of Elphame would take an interest in those who might have magical potential and seek to teach such individuals the mysteries of the Otherworld.  The Faerie Queen is often thought to be another form of the goddess Freya, the Norse and Germanic goddess of magic and witchcraft.  

According to Horne in “Folk Witchcraft,” “The primary reason for a witch to connect with the familiar is to learn….”  The power derived from these relationships can be used to:

  • Heal others (and yourself)
  • Know whether a person will live or die
  • Divine the future
  • Find lost objects or people
  • Communicate with the dead
  • Provide protection and strength
  • Safely astral travel (“hedge riding” or “journeying”)
  • Provide power for magical workings
  • Know what lies ahead in your day and travels
  • And more…

I could write an entire book on the benefits of a witch’s relationship with her familiar spirits.  But instead, I will end with the idea that spirit familiars are craft teachers to the witch. They should be treated with immense respect as they are often ancient, powerful spirits, or connected to ancient beings like the Queen of Elphame (perhaps Freya herself).  Your familiar can teach you healing remedies and how to access and strengthen your intuitive gifts.  Familiars will help you hone and empower your spellcraft and deepen your connection to the unseen worlds.  

I hope you will explore this important and often misunderstood element of witchcraft for yourself! When forming any new relationship with an unknown spirit (or person!), be discerning but also brave and open to the incredible riches of knowledge, healing, empowerment and spirituality that spirit familiar relationships hold for the witch.  I hope you will take the time to become familiar with your spirit familiars!  Blessed be.

Bibliography of Sources:

Artisson, Robin. An Carow Gwyn: Sorcery and the Ancient Fayerie Faith. Black Malkin Press, 2018.

Cowan, Thomas.  Fire in the Head: Shamanism and the Celtic Spirit. Harper One, 1993.

Emerick, Carolyn.  Thomas the Rhymer: Shamanic Tradition in Lowland Scottish Lore.  Carolyn Emerick, 2017. 

Horne, Roger. Folk Witchcraft: A Guide to Lore, Land and the Familiar Spirit for the Solitary Practitioner.  Moon over the Mountain Press, 2019.

Wilby, Emma.  Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic.  Sussex Academy Press, 2013.  

Copyright 2021 Spirit, Spindle & Root, All Rights Reserved.